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3 Things to do After Arriving in Japan

Teach English in Japan

I’ve taught English in China before, and to be quite honest I was babied through the whole thing. I got a cheap phone on arrival, I had an interpreter with me when I opened a bank account, and most importantly- there was a very large group of us so I never felt alone. Now, I am teaching in Japan and on the other hand; I knew it was going to be very different- mainly because I was going alone. No amount of “googling”and research can really prepare you for moving to a new country on your own. Of course there are some great tips online- but after two months you start realizing that these blogs are out dated and none of the things they talk about are relevant any more. Here’s a list of things that I had to do when I arrived in Japan.

Registering at your local ward/city office

Teach in Japan

This is the most important thing you need to do when you arrive in the city you will be living in. You must register your address at your city office within 14 days of arriving. This process didn’t take me long- I’d say about an hour. Make sure you carry your passport, and residency card (you would have received this when you entered Japan), as well as your physical address in English and Kanji (Japanese alphabet). I live in Yokkaichi and I had no assistance in English- but everyone was pretty helpful and they understood what I came there for. After filling in some forms they took my residence card, I waited a few minutes and they gave it back to me with my address written on the back. Voila! Done! Every time you change addresses you will need to repeat this.

Health Insurance

I was lucky because where I registered for health insurance was the same building as the city office! This may not be the case in other cities- so just ask around! No-one here spoke English so we relied on Google translate. Bring your residency card (WITH your address). You will be registering for the NHI (National Health Insurance). It pays 70% of your medical fees and you pay the rest. In my city, the fee is distributed over 10 months- usually from July to April. The amount you pay depends on your salary. After registering, I had two options- either to have my insurance card posted to me, or wait about 30minutes and I’d get it. It’s very important to note that if you delay in signing up for health insurance, when you eventually do- you will be charged for the months you hadn’t signed up in…so rather do it as soon as you can.

Opening a Bank Account

All I can say here is SHINSEI BANK! It was super easy as they have English speaking staff at their branches. You need to bring your passport and residency card. I have noticed that there’s a rumour going around that they don’t give accounts to people who have been in Japan less than 6 months- this is only part truth. Initially I was told I can’t get an account but there are exceptions- it all depends on the number of employees the company you work for has. I recommend Shinsei because they also have a very easy online banking system which is rare with Japanese banks! The process took me about an hour. I was lucky to get my cash card same day as I wasn’t picky regarding the color I wanted. Sometimes they post the card to you. Just note that the cash card is exactly that- a cash card. Which means you cannot make online purchases with it or swipe! After opening a bank account Shinsei sends you a security card which will help you log into your online banking.

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My First Grocery Shopping Experience in Japan

Three weeks since I started teaching English in Japan, I spent three weeks living off of Bento Boxes, Family Mart snacks and donuts. Then it finally hit me- I need to cook! I was avoiding the inevitable- buying groceries. Or as I call it, The 2 hour Grocery Game. Because that’s what it felt like, a game. I knew what I wanted to buy, but because I’m a level zero in the Japanese language. Well, you can imagine what that was like! The easiest milk to spot was almond milk because it had a big almond on the cover. I still don’t know any Japanese cow milk products!

Here’ some advice I have for first time grocery shopping in Japan!

Find a supermarket withing walking distance of where you live!

This doesn’t apply to you if you have a car. The rest of us train commuters on the other hand. Unless you are Hulk 2.0, there’s no way you can station hop with all your grocery bags. It’s much easier to shop close to home. I also highly recommend not doing all your shopping at once! Or else you’ll have painful arms (like me) for a week. There’s no fun in carrying 5 bags full of food alone, on a 10 minute walk home!

The price you see isn’t the price you pay

Now, as a South African, we only have one price on our price tags. In Japan there’s two. Ignore the one in big writing and focus on the tiny one- because it include taxes!!! If you’re like me and shop with a calculator at hand you’ll get a bit of a shock at the till when the numbers seem to not add up!

Try know some Japanese words for the foods you want

I guarantee you, first trip will be awesome until you spend 30 mins trying to figure out which black bottle is soy sauce. I stood hopelessly, trying to summon the Asian Master within, trying so hard to read the Kanji with zero luck. Eventually I googled soy sauce. Knowing some of your favourite foods in Japanese will seriously cut down your shopping time.

Grocery shopping in Japan is quite an experience, but can be quite daunting. People are very friendly and always keen to help- don’t be afraid to ask! Translator apps like Google Translate can be life savers, especially the camera function- it does wonders while shopping! With translating at your finger tips, and well rested arms, you should be okay! Also, take the time to get yourself a treat every now and then and by now and then I mean every day!

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